By Lori Heine
When most people think of Republicans who support same-sex marriage, they think of RINOs firmly entrenched in the liberal Northeast. But a new coalition of pro-equality Republicans is emerging in what may seem an unlikely place: the conservative West. “Evoking Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater,” notes the New York Times, a group of Western-state Republicans plans to enter the battle in favor of same-sex marriage on Tuesday, urging a federal appeals court to declare gay marriage bans in Utah and Oklahoma unconstitutional.”
The brief has collected the signatures of approximately 20 prominent members of the GOP, including former senators Alan K. Simpson of Wyoming and Nancy L. Kassebaum of Kansas. It declares that “marriage is strengthened” and “the social stability of the family unit are promoted” by the legalization of same-sex marriage.
Though the battle rages on across the country, its tide is turning nationwide. The friend-of-the-court brief that has attracted so many signers is being filed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver. There, appeals are being heard from marriage equality foes in Utah and Oklahoma who want their gay-marriage bans reinstated.
Will the day soon dawn when Republican politicians standing tall for marriage equality include current officeholders, as well as former? Cynics point out that most of those still serving in office remain opposed to equality or silent on the issue. But some of the signers of the brief are highly respected in the GOP. Those with deeper insight into human nature are more likely to say that many of those currently holding office would like to “come out” for equality, but are waiting to see what the tide brings in.
They probably shouldn’t wait too long. A February New York Times/CBS poll reported that Republican voters are rapidly coming aboard. Though in September 2012, a mere 24 percent supported legalizing same-sex marriage, by May of last year the figure had risen to 33 percent. It now stands at forty.
The seeming seismic shift in the West may not be as astonishing as the cynics think. There’s always been a strong live-and-let-live spirit in the West. Conservative hero Barry Goldwater spoke out in favor of gay rights years before the rest of his party was ready to hear it. All too often, Republican politicians tend to think like the cynics. They overestimate the popular fear of change.
Historically, principled leadership has come first not from those in political office, but from the people. The prairie grassroots are growing more supportive of marriage equality all the time. The change is so staggering – so exhilarating – that it’s tempting to think it’s a mirage. But if the court of appeals upholds the current rulings, that tidal wave will become a prairie fire: spreading through Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming.
Those seeking to make a statement against gay marriage by reinforcing the tired meme that opposition is somehow a matter of Christian principle have been shocked to see that message vehemently repudiated. They evidently expected to slip it by, with a wink and a nod to their social conservative base. But in a variety of states – with an especially notable groundswell of ferocity in Arizona – the people are speaking out in favor of equality. If even the solidly Right-Wing West is becoming more supportive of same-sex marriage, nationwide acceptance may not be far behind.